Today is the birthday of Adolph Coors (February 4, 1847-June 5, 1929) whose full name was Adolph Hermann Josef Coors, although it’s probable that the Coors surname was originally spelled Kuhrs, or something like that. Coors was born in what today is Germany, in the town of Barmen, part of Rhenish Prussia, or Rhineland. After being orphaned as a fifteen-year old boy, he continued the apprenticeship he’d begun earlier at the Wenker Brewery in Dortmund, and later on was a paid employee. When he was 21, he stowed aboard a ship in Hamburg and made his way to New York City, where he changed the family name to its present spelling. By spring he’d moved to Chicago, and shortly thereafter became a foreman of John Stenger’s brewery in nearby Napierville, where he worked for the next four years.
At the beginning of 1872, he resigned and headed west, to Denver, Colorado. Coors took a few odd jobs, and then he purchased a partnership in the bottling firm of John Staderman, buying out his partner later the same year, assuming control of the entire business. But it was the following year, on November 14, 1873, that the Coors empire really began. On that day, Adolph Coors, along with Denver confectioner Jacob Schueler, bought the Golden City Tannery, which had been abandoned, in Golden, Colorado, and transformed it into the Golden Brewery. “By February 1874 they were producing beer for sale. In 1880 Coors purchased Schueler’s interest, and the brewery was renamed Adolph Coors Golden Brewery.”
And here’s a short biography from the Colorado Encyclopedia:
Adolph Coors (1847–1929) immigrated to the United States in 1868 after serving as a brewery apprentice in western Germany and then in the Kingdom of Prussia. After working in Chicago breweries, he moved to Colorado in 1872 and purchased a bottling company. He transformed it into the Coors Brewing Company and became one of Colorado’s wealthiest and most influential men during the early twentieth century.
After moving to Denver, Coors promptly bought into a bottling company and became the sole owner by the end of the year. In 1873 he started looking for a place to build a brewery with access to clean mountain water and found one at the abandoned Golden Tannery. He partnered with candy store owner and fellow German Jacob Scheuler to purchase the tannery and turned it into the Scheuler and Coors Brewing Company, one of the first breweries in the area. By 1874, even in the midst of economic crisis, the company was making 800 gallons of beer a day. Their beer was valued for its taste, consistency, and crispness.
Coors hired many German immigrants to run his beer factory, bottling plant, malt house, and icehouse. He invested heavily in new technology, such as metal bottle caps and increased automation. In 1879 he married Louisa Weber. The couple had six children – three daughters and three sons. That same year, he bought out Scheuler and became the sole owner of Coors Brewing. He allowed his workers to join the United Brewery Workmen of the United States and paid them well. The brewery famously provided free beer to its workers during breaks. By 1890, Coors was a millionaire, a US citizen, and a medal winner at the Chicago World’s Fair.
The movement to abolish alcohol began to gather momentum in the late nineteenth century. Coors correctly diversified his investments; beer may be recession-proof, but it would not weather Prohibition. In 1916, when Prohibition began in Colorado, Coors shifted his manufacturing from beer to milk products and porcelain. In 1933, with the repeal of Prohibition, Coors returned to his preferred product but continued to manufacture other goods.
Coors generally remained aloof from Denver high society, but he felt great kinship with his employees and identified with them as a craftsman. He instituted more breaks, better working conditions, and higher wages for his workers than did almost all other brewers. But Coors became disillusioned with his product in the early twentieth century, after pasteurization (the heating of beer to kill microbes) and mass marketing transformed the beer industry. Coors took his life in 1929 by jumping from his hotel balcony in Virginia Beach. In his will, he stipulated that his hotel bill be paid in its entirety; otherwise, he left no note and no reason for his action. Coors is remembered for his entrepreneurial spirit, his rags-to-riches immigrant story, and his dedication to the craft of brewing beer.
A portrait of Adolph Coors by artist Bill Moomey
Coors was elected to the Colorado Business Hall of Fame in 1990, who produced a short film of his life for the induction ceremony:
And here’s an early postcard depicting the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado. It’s a remarkable place and you should definitely take the tour if you ever get near that part of the world.